OPERATIONS

Toys ‘R’ Us holiday plans include ‘hot toy’ reservations and 150 to 200 pop-up stores

BY Marianne Wilson

New York — Toys “R” Us’ holiday 2012 plans include a “hot toy” reservation program, free and expanded layaway services and offering more exclusive toys from branded manufacturers along with more proprietary products. The nation’s largest specialty toy retailer also will open 150 to 200 temporary locations for the holidays under the Toys “R” Us Express banner.

“The pop-ups are important because they expand our reach and put us in places where the customer otherwise wouldn’t fine us,” chairman and CEO Jerry Storch said during an event Wednesday at the company’s Times Square flagship.

Storch stroke a confident note about the upcoming season, and noted, as he has in past years, that while he can’t predict the economy, the last thing that parents will cut back at Christmas is on toys for their children.

“Our inventories are in very healthy shape as we approach the holidays so we can go after products we really believe in,” Storch added.

The chief executive highlighted the company’s recent performance, adding that it has had three consecutive years of adjusted EPITDA in excess of $1 billion from 2009 to 2011. He also made a strong defense of Toys “R” Us’ big-box positioning and expressed his frustration with the notion that the future belongs to Internet-only companies.

“The future belongs to brands — not channels — that build the best consumer-facing network, which include stores, Internet, social and mobile,” Storch said.

The chain’s new “Hot Toy” reservation system is designed to put an end to frantic, last-minute searching for coveted items, according to Storch, The program will be available for the 50 items on Toys “R” Us’ annual Holiday Hot Toy List (the toys have not yet been revealed).

Customers will be able to reserve any of the toys on the list with a 20% down payment, and reservations will be taken through Oct. 31. Customers will be able to reserve an item even if it is not in-stock at their local store. They receive email notification when the items are available and will have to Dec. 16 to pick up their orders.

Owing to the complexity of the program, and to avoid the potential for online scams, the reservation system is only being offered in Toys “R” Us stores.

“No one has ever done anything like this,” Storch said.

In other holiday news, Toys “R” Us said it is waving the upfront service fee for all layaway orders in its stores through Oct. 31. Also new: Layaway will be available at the company’s pop-up Express stores and outlet locations.

In addition, Toys “R” Us will roll out a "ship to store" program to allow customers to send online purchases to their local Toys “R” Us or Babies “R” Us store free of charge. It is also setting up merchandise pick-up kiosks in stores to reduce wait times for shoppers who are coming to pick up pre-ordered items.

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Holiday hiring indicator suggests Merry Christmas

BY CSA STAFF

Retailers plan to hire an increased number of temporary workers this holiday season, according to a survey by the global consulting firm Hay Group.

"Retailers are betting that 2012 is going to be a great holiday season," said Craig Rowley, vp and global practice leader for Hay Group’s retail practice. "After four years of economic turbulence, they have figured out how to operate in an uncertain business environment and are calm and cool, knowing that they are ready, as they head into the holidays."

According to the firm, 75% of the retailers who participated in a holiday survey said their sales would be higher this year than last and 57% said they would keep staffing levels consistent with the prior year while 36% plan to increase hiring.

Hay Group’s survey, now in its sixth year, included only 14 retailers and none of the publicly identified participants – Ann Inc., Hot Topic, Chico’s, and David’s Bridal – are major operators. However, despite the limited sample size, the findings may be directionally relevant and offer insight to retailers holiday expectations. Of course, as company’s look to do more with less it is also conceivable that even retailers whose internal forecasts call for sales increases will look to hold the line on labor budgets.

Among other findings from the survey:

►Retailers look to increase permanent workers. Retailers are also increasing their focus on permanent employees. Forty-three percent say they will have more permanent workers and fewer seasonal workers this year. With renewed confidence and a bullish outlook for 2013, retailers want to retain more workers beyond the holiday season.

►The job applicant pool remains competitive, but stable. Despite continued challenges in the job market, 75% of retailers said the quantity of seasonal applicants is about the same as 2011. When it comes to quality, 62% said the average experience level of seasonal workers is between 0-1 years, and 38 percent say it’s between 2-4 years. As stores still have plenty of access to talent, seasonal workers can expect similar pay rates this year. Nearly all retailers (92%) say their hire rates are about the same as in 2011.

"All things considered, retailers are on the ‘nice list’ this year," said Maryam Morse, national reward practice leader of Hay Group’s retail practice. "One of the lessons learned during the downturn was that stores need to be able to respond more quickly to shifting market conditions and consumer preferences. Now, inventory is better managed, the supply chain is more effective and retailers have a clear plan for promotions to move the merchandise. With sales improving, retailers are placing more emphasis on retaining and rewarding employees and identifying career paths for top talent."

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City Sports names Albertian CEO

BY CSA STAFF

Boston-based City Sports names Edward Albertian as president and CEO

The 21 store chain said Albertian had joined the company after serving the prior seven years as president and CEO of Trans National Group.

"I’m delighted to join the strong management team and dedicated employees of City Sports as we continue to bring the best in specialty athletic retail to consumers everywhere, said Albertian. "I look forward to enhancing all areas of our business, from merchandising and marketing to store operations, human resources and distribution as we continue to expand and enter new markets."

Prior to Trans National, Albertian was president and COO of C&S Wholesale Grocers, the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the country. Prior to that role he spent five years as COO of the Star Markets Company Inc. and he also served as SVP of retail operations at Staples.

"Ed Albertian is a proven retail veteran with an impressively stellar track record, and we are thrilled to add such a dynamic and success-oriented leader to the City Sports team," said Tom Stemberg, Managing General Partner of Highland Consumer Fund and former CEO and founder of Staples.

The addition of Albertian caps off a record growth year for City Sports, which launched four new retail locations in the past 12 months including stores in Burlington, Vt. and Wellesley, Mass.

Albertian’s appointment follows the departure of City Sports’ previous president and CEO Jeff Connor, who resigned last month.

City Sports operates 21 metropolitan stores across the East Coast, with locations in Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Burlington, Vt.

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